Troublesome knowledge (1)

In this blog I am proposing lines of enquiry for the future – suggestions and possibilities – none of it set in stone but they are there to ask questions and suggest ways forward.

Disappearing down the rabbit hole of regret feels like a waste of energy and also a fairly self-destructive path to take. It feels like transformational learning (2) is just as much about stopping doing things (unlearning) as much as exploring new knowledge and new ways of working. Recognising damaging triggers and unhelpful habits might be just what is needed in bringing resolution to tricky times. Findings ways to share a message for others about not being too judgemental about what we are doing and that thinking that other people are deficient and useless may well be a reflection of own inner critic. Mindfulness and self-compassion have a huge amount to offer those of us who ride the treadmill of negativity. My inner monologue has been harsh and mainly critical for many years. I have not had any real sense of my own self-worth or confidence in my moral compass or professional skills before, during and after my career hiccup. There has often been a significant mismatch between my inner beliefs and how people have interpreted my actions. I clearly come across as confident and self- assured – competent, articulate and intelligent.  Verbal dexterity and a solid foundation of values has masked a chronic and searing insecurity, an attachment to naysayers rather than noticing can-doers and seeking affirmation. It seems an odd mismatch but one I have navigated in the last few years and has been knackering and self-defeating. Unwittingly the bullying and misrepresentation of my mental health 3 years ago has done me a great big favour – given me new knowledge and insight that no academic study could have given me.

Bringing awareness to those thoughts and feelings has made a huge amount of difference to my well-being over the last few months (3). Rather surprisingly, working in an elitist organisation with high ideals and aspirations has boosted my sense of purpose and meaning. I find I speak up at meetings with assurance and clarity – assertive but not strident. I confess publicly to being enthusiastic and passionate about knowing more about our student journeys within the institution. As a result I am finding allies and allegiances that I hadn’t expected to be there – I am thrilled that they are and I am hopeful that there are levers within the institution that will enable changes to attitudes that might make a difference for everyone. I have found that helping undergraduates understand themselves more holistically can make a positive difference to their learning experiences. Being kind and curious can be influential and keeping an eye on the sphere of influence instead of my sphere of concern helps conserve my energy and preserve it for the focus I find energising rather than losing it in wasteful and inefficient ways (4). Knowing that changing my approach to things is the only thing I can really influence has saved me from trying to change others – a great lesson that has taken rather a long time to learn.

It is still a work in progress but it does feel like I am more consistent and less reactive. The power of being proactive and finding what Ken Robinson calls your element (5) has made a huge shift in my work experience and one that seems sustainable and also one I want to keep learning from.


  3. Emotional Agility by Susan David

Next steps – warning a long post!!!

I have been bruised and battered by a number of experiences over the last 15 years – from the termination of my PhD studies, bereavement and the drama of my career muck up and I now have a number of years of trying to make sense of it all. I am not sure I am anywhere near understanding it all and I suspect that might always be the case.

I don’t think I will ever really understand the motivation of the people who made me stop studying my PhD whilst letting others continue – I didn’t ask at the time because I was so shell-shocked by the decision.  I have spent many years avoiding thinking too much about the emotional impact but that hasn’t been helpful and returning to an academic job in a research intensive university has surfaced a great deal of thoughts and feelings about PhDs – their worth or otherwise etc.

I am very aware that there are many varieties of PhDs out there and one of my issues was that I was striving to produce the perfect thesis and that was never going to happen nor is it possible. I was very struck by Pat Thomson’s blog when she wrote about students being reluctant to share their writing (1) –  this is a sign of quite a complex issue and one I could really relate to in my experiences 15 years ago. I was writing when I could but I was never asked to show my writing on a regular basis – I wasn’t given meaningful deadlines and wasn’t required to evidence my thoughts. I am verbally articulate and easily distracted and I would have welcomed some help in getting me out of my stuck place and assumptions were made about my capability. That stuck place is still hovering in the background of my current experiences – I compare myself with others and always find myself wanting – I am not sure what is expected and now that I am realising that different subjects expect very different outputs in relation to their scholarly products. I can see how my perfectionism and chronic lack of self-belief ensured that I continued with self-defeating behaviours and that those behaviours are still stalking me now. Paying attention and being kind about all of this seems to be key in shifting “stuff”.

Getting my s**t together after the traumatic events of May 2015 has not been straightforward and the learning that I have encountered feels like it is very important.  I have a compulsion to share it and utilise it to help others who might be dealing with the erosion of hope and the erasure of credibility. I know I am not the only person to have been bullied, belittled, misrepresented and lied about – people will cover up and deny to protect their positions. They will also forget about it very quickly and greet you enthusiastically 2 years later as though they have never had a role in nearly destroying a person’s mental health – denial is quite something and I guess might be a survival response and motivated by self-protection.

When I encounter practitioners who resist reflection, avoid clinical supervision and appear to have a very small window of self-awareness I will now keep a good distance from them. I have learnt to avoid the mood hooverers and those seeking shelter in the victim corner of the drama triangle (2). I can spot these folk quite quickly and my burnout contributed to my not being help to spot them when I  made the decision to move from the University 4 years ago. I needed to be needed and the “good works” of the organisation I went to work with seemed a balm for my fractured soul – but it soon became obvious that the work done was mediocre and that the level of incompetence and delusion was scary and distressing.

I clearly remember realising, 6 weeks into the role, that I needed to develop an exit strategy and time limit my exposure to the toxicity and corrosiveness. I was fortunate to have leadership coaching sessions and found the time and space to reflect out loud about my thoughts, feelings and observations. This skilled analysis of my experiences certainly enabled me to escape before I was severely damaged by the malevolence at work. I was also extremely lucky to connect with one member of staff who had great integrity, gritty authenticity and a moral compass that taught me a lot about how we can work with compassion and honesty. Her wisdom and role modelling has ever since my exit been a constant companion and has provided valuable guidance and insight on numerous occasions – no doubt the very best outcome from a horrible time.

My move from higher education to clinical practice in 2014 went very wrong partly because I was stuck being 18 when I was interacting with many of my colleagues. The type of nursing I was observing and the personalities involved upset me and diminished my capacity to cope – I have only just begun to fully appreciate the limitations that I was working with in the last few months – distance and other similar experiences have illuminated what was going on.

Leaving nursing has been liberating and enabling – an unexpected and welcome experience. I am staying curious with the thoughts and feelings – following Susan David’s advice and using emotions as data not directions (3). Unlearning is definitely much harder than learning new stuff – noticing habits that need changing and also noticing the emotional variations attached to the transition from one state to another.

For many years I have longed to belong but have found this really difficult and have struggled to ally myself to a group or cause. Many of the people with whom I have worked have fallen short of my standards and have disappointed me a great deal. I now realise that much of this is a projection of my own self-criticism and a chronic lack of self-belief. I have become disillusioned and disaffected very quickly and am now aware of the challenge that habit creates in finding a space to thrive and flourish. Not feeling that I deserve anything else has been a chronic problem and self-compassion is teaching me to reduce the criticism and judgement.

All of this has contributed to a continuing self- knowledge that has surprised me and hasn’t always been very easy. I have navigated adversity and encountered superficial do-gooders who work to inflate their ego rather than working with a sense of clear purpose and meaning. I have become adept at spotting bulls**t and noticing the mismatch between rhetoric and reality.

I am beginning to recognise that these difficulties are helping me find a way of helping the students I work with discover a better way of being. Failure and muck-ups are great teachers and the lessons I have learnt are priceless and probably greater than the learning from the courses I have attended and the qualifications I have earned. Experiential learning hasn’t taught me academic discipline and critical thinking – those essential requirements of successful scholarship in many subjects and one that I find the biggest challenge. I also realise that none of my taught educational courses have equipped me with the skills of close reading, the discipline of writing complex documents or editing more than 4000 words. I find the undergraduates in the arts, social sciences and humanities have more thinking skills than I had fully appreciated or encountered before and they can articulate coherent and cogent arguments. Compelling and lucid they are truly impressive and I know I can learn a lot from working with them and I am confident that I can attain some of those attributes.

What I would like to do is move from musings such as this to an integration of the literature and read stuff and then position myself along with a synthesis of the existing evidence base. I am not sure how to proceed with this at this time and I guess I am also aware that I don’t actually want to write academic style work as that won’t be read by many and won’t have the  impact in relation to engaging the reluctant and the sceptical – the ivory towers of academia seem too lofty and removed from the lived experience of most people. However viewing my musings through a theoretical lens might be a way of raising my cultural capital (4) – increasing my sense of self-belief and self-esteem, increasing my motivation and giving me the fuel to propel myself beyond the stuck place I retreat to when troubled by all of this discomfort.

This blog post is a start and a way of writing as a way of knowing (5).



Each day I am beginning to see how important poetry is to me and I am beginning to believe that I might be less apologetic about it and more confident about the good it can bring into people’s lives. I believe that reading and writing poetry can be a force for good and that attuning ourselves to the music, imagery and precision of a good poem can transform our perceptions. Within poetry workshops I believe it is possible to develop creative and generative spaces that enable participants to discover new ways of perceiving their thoughts, feelings and experiences. I am running a workshop next week that I will reflect on and I hope will contribute to my cultural capital – a growing belief in what the last 3 years has been about – finding my way in the world.

Anyway after a twitter chat that got me annoyed about nursing (again) I resolved to write a poem. Doing this will generate some data for me to look back on when I start writing my book!!

Double Homework

Timelines you just

can’t ignore.


Tweaks and changes,

fossilised thinking.





comment – not comment.

Will it make any difference?


Draw a line under

getting it right,


status ambivalent,

value ambiguous.



Finding a groove

I am beginning to find answers to some very long held questions about the why, what and how about my writing.

There is no doubt that my life changed a lot when I met Julia Darling in 2003 and that poetry and creative writing/arts have taken up spaces in my life that I had not experienced before. The creative journey has been alongside the growing disillusionment and disenchantment with my chosen profession.

All of this has contributed to some tricky times over the last 6 years and making sense of all of the emotions over the last 15 years is a work in progress.

What I do know is that right now I feel much calmer than I have for a long time and that leaving the nursing profession has been a liberating and enabling decision. Why that should be and what has contributed to all of the turmoil and distress is a project I wish to explore over the next few months.

I am going to use this blog to ask questions and reflect on my experience in my new role and resist drawing conclusions too quickly.

I know I find strength in collaboration, clever conversations and a balance between challenge and competence. I have discovered that I thrive when I am on the edge of comfort and that too much ease results in restlessness and self-sabotage.

I enjoy working with clever people and am learning how to protect myself from the “stuff” around me that I can’t do anything about. Rather than waste energy on things I can not influence but cause me concern. I am going to keep things in my peripheral vision, find ways to protect myself and conserve my energy and focus on the small part of the world where I can make a difference.


Reflective moments

I am interested in the emotions being expressed by students who are stressed and challenged by the University life. Distressed and confused they are often hypercritical of themselves, feeling helpless and powerless – confronted by high expectation, social comparison, academic assessment, financial issues, and an uncertain future self they become overwhelmed and wobble, cry and find it all difficult and struggle to cope. Responses and reactions to this distress vary greatly and the students’ help seeking behaviour is inconsistent and probably mediated by systems and processes within the University that might feel inhuman and create distance and inhibit rather than facilitate.

I believe that how we respond to student “wobbles” tells us a great deal about ourselves and the beliefs and attitudes we have towards emotional distress. I would suggest that  within any University system there is a tendency to label, pathologise, judge and refer onto someone else – the “wobbles” not an academic responsibility but an issue to be dealt with by professional staff, elsewhere.

Containing these emotions is tricky and requires specific skills and knowledge. The recent reports of high rates of mental ill health in University students may well be a function of the system rather than students being more vulnerable or less resilient than those in the past. Student wellbeing services are swamped by “needy” students and there seems to be a disconnect between learning and “wellbeing” issues. There is no doubt in my mind that they are interrelated and that a reciprocal relationship exists between the two.

I am digging deep to find ways of holding space for these students and finding a way to provide support, resources and sign posting for staff and students. I don’t believe we can see student wellbeing in isolation – it is linked to the wider community and needs mapping. That’s the next step and I am looking forward to the adventure.

New Year

I’m not making any resolutions but I am determined to dig a bit deeper and not find myself burnt out and unemployable again. I am in an interesting position at the moment as I start a new job and find myself working with kind and energetic folk who want to help me not floor me. I am working in an environment that seeks to foster excellence and promotes scholarship. I am able to combine the development of a new role with systematic research and it feels enabling and liberating. The challenges will be different to ones I have faced in the past but also strangely familiar. Not everyone will agree with what I might be doing and certain attitudes will test my patience. I am excited about learning and improving practices. I hope to share as I start this new journey. 


I am reflecting on accolades and why people do what they do, how they treat other people and whether , often, they are just there for the glory. I have worked with folk who are driven by their own vanity and oblivious to the chaos and distress they generate around them. In the last 3 years I have had to question what motivates some very senior people and judge them on how they treat their staff and how they talk about other people. I find it very difficult to be a bystander these days when there is a mismatch between what people say they do and what I see them doing. When I witness a lack of generosity, a total disregard of other people’s skills, a self belief and grandiosity that attracts attention but lacks depth. 

I am mystified by recent observations and have found myself listening to frustration and sorrow from good people who deserve better. I am having to learn how to protect myself from the emotions that rise up when I react to these issues. I did not expect to meet narcissists and selfish glory seekers in health care but that is where I  have encountered them, I think I will find them easier to deal with in other environments and may not be so disappointed by their selfishness and utter contempt for those around them. I have only worked with 2 such individuals in recent years and I hope I don’t get so close again, it leaves you feeling uncomfortable and questioning your judgement of who to work with and from whom you can learn.